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of his cloak, he was passing, lamp in hand, through the entry leading
to the choir of St. Luke, his doubt of the previous night came up again
violently. "Had it really been a confession?" He stopped in the shadow
of the deserted entry, looking at the lamp, giving vent for a moment to
the sweet, tempting thoughts of the inert spirit. "Were he to take some
pretext to send the woman away, to live and die in peace in his St.
Luke." All at once his heart began to beat fiercely. These were
thoughts from the devil. In the same way as perhaps in ancient times
and in the same place some monk, tormented by heated nocturnal visions
of love and of pleasure, may have done, Don Rocco made hastily the sign
of the cross, hastened to the choir, and became immersed in a devout
reading of the prayer-book.



V.

Ten days after, at the same hour, Don Rocco was praying before the
altar of the Virgin, under the pulpit.

He was on the eve of leaving St. Luke for ever. He had agreed with the
Countess Carlotta to give as an excuse a brief absence, a visit of a
couple of weeks to his old father; and to write afterwards that for
family reasons he could not return, and then this had happened that the
poor old peasant, before learning of the new state of affairs, had
written, asking for assistance; and Don Rocco had been obliged to sell
some furniture as well to save cost of transportation as in order not
to arrive home with empty hands. He was returning with the intention of
remaining as short a time as possible, and of going away as chaplain
wherever it pleased the Curia to which he had directed his request.

No certain information had been secured, either of the wine or of the
thieves; but suspicions were rife against a woman who kept an inn, a
new favorite of the Moro, who was thought to have received the wine.
The Moro was said by some to have fled, by others to have gone into
hiding. It seemed as if the police were of the second opinion. They
came and went, searching everywhere, but always uselessly.

Lucia had returned, and for several days had behaved in an unusual and
peculiar manner. She neglected her work, was brusque with her master,
and wept without apparent motive. One evening she went out, saying that
she intended going to the parish church to say her prayers. At nine
o'clock Don Rocco, as she had not returned, went philosophically to
bed, and never knew at what time she came into the house. On the
contrary, he congratulated himself the next day on the happy change
that had taken place in her, owing to her religious exercises, because
she seemed no longer as she had been, but was quiet, attentive, active,
spoke with satisfaction of the approaching departure, the position
which Don Rocco hoped to find for her with a certain arch-priest, a
friend of his; a promotion for her. She seemed to be possessed of an
entirely novel ascetic zeal. As soon as Don Rocco retired for the
night, she would go to church to spend there hour after hour.

And now, Don Rocco had taken his last supper in the monastic refectory,
was reading his breviary for the last time in the little church of St.
Luke, as rustic, simple, and religious as he, from its pavement to the
black beams of its roof. His heart was heavy, poor priest, thus to
leave his nest without honor; to carry humiliation and bitterness to
his father and his sister, whose only hope and pride he was! He had
every reason to frown as he looked at his breviary.

When he had finished reading, he took his seat on a bench. It was
painful to him to take leave of his church. It was his last evening! He
stood there with fixed eyes, his eyelids moving regularly, discouraged,
cast down, like a stricken beast awaiting the axe. He had passed some
hours of the afternoon among his vines, those planted three years
before, which had already given him their first fruit. The large
cypresses, the splendid view of the plain and of the other hillsides,
inspired him with not a single dream; his peasant's heart grew tender
toward the beautiful vines, the fertile furrows. Though blushing and
ashamed of it, he had taken a sprig of a vine and an ear of corn to
carry away as mementos. This was his poetry. Of the church he could
carry away nothing. But he left there his heart, a little everywhere;
on the altar that had witnessed his first exposition of the Gospel, on
the ancient altar front that inspired him with devotion as he said
Mass, on the beautiful Madonna, whose mantle had been modestly raised
around her neck by his care, on the tomb of a bishop to whom, two
centuries before, the peace of St. Luke had seemed preferable to
worldly splendors. Who could tell whether he would ever have again a
church so his own - entirely his own? He could not seem to rise, he felt
an inner sense of dissolution, of which he had never dreamed. His
eyelids kept on winking as if bidding away importunate tears. In fact,
he did not weep, but his little eyes shone more than usual.

At half-past nine Lucia entered the church through the choir to look
after her master. "I am coming at once, at once, go back," said Don
Rocco.

He believed himself alone in the church, but had he bent his head back
he might have seen something unusual. Very slowly a human head showed
itself in the pulpit by the light of the petroleum lamp and looked down
upon the priest. It had the diabolic eyes of the Moro set in a shaven
ecclesiastical face. The head rose up in the shadow, two long arms made
in the air a violent gesture of impatience. At the same time Don Rocco
repeated to the woman who stood hesitating: "Go back, go back, I am
coming at once."

She went out.

Then the priest got up from his bench and went up to the high altar.
The human figure in the pulpit came down again, and went rapidly into
hiding. Don Rocco turned around so as to stand in cornu epistolae,
toward the empty benches, imagined them full of people, of his people
of every Sunday, and a spirit of eloquence entered into him.

"I bless you all," said he in a strong voice. "I wish that you were all
present, but that is not possible, because I must not let any one know.
I bless you all, and ask you to pardon me if I have been wanting.
Gloria Dei cum omnibus vobis."

The temptation was too strong for a certain person to resist. A
cavernous voice resounded through the empty church:

"Amen."

Don Rocco remained breathless, with his hands in the air.

"Hurry up," said the servant, returning. "Do you not remember that you
must leave out your cloak and your clothes?"

Poor Don Rocco was not well found in clothes, for he carried on his
back omnia bona sua, and there was sewing to be done and spots to be
taken out, according to Lucia, before the journey of the next morning.
Don Rocco descended from the altar without answering and went all
through the church, lowering the lamp between all the benches and
confessionals.

"What is it; what are you looking for?" asked the servant, anxiously
coming along behind him. For a while Don Rocco did not answer.

"I said a few words of prayer," he said finally, "and I heard some one
answer 'Amen.'"

"You fancied so." replied Lucia. "It must have been a trick of the
imagination."

"No, no," said Don Rocco. "I really heard the 'Amen.' It seemed to be a
voice from under the earth. A great big voice. It did not seem that of
a man, but rather of a bull."

"It may have been the bishop," suggested the woman. "Isn't there a
bishop buried here? Such things have been heard of."

Don Rocco kept silent. In his simplicity, in his innate disposition to
faith, he was inclined to willingly believe anything supernatural,
especially if connected with religion. The more astonishing it was, the
more did he in sign of reverence knit his brows and drink it in
devoutly.

"Now let us go," said the woman. "It is late, you know, and I have
considerable work to do."

"Let us at least recite a pater, an ave, and a gloria to St. Luke,"
said Don Rocco. "It is the last evening that I say my prayers here. I
must leave a salute." He spoke of a pater, and an ave, and a gloria;
but he strung along at least a dozen, finding as many reasons to salute
other saints of his particular acquaintance. One was to promote the
eternal salvation of the two devotees, one their temporal salvation,
one the grace to conquer temptations, one a suitable position, one a
good death, and another a good journey. The last pater was recited by
Don Rocco with remarkable fervor for the complete conversion of a
sinful soul. Had the priest been less absorbed in his paters he might,
perhaps, have heard after the fourth or fifth some smothered
ejaculations of that humorous bishop who had perpetrated the "Amen."
But he heard only Lucia answering him with much devotion, and was
touched to the heart by it.

A few moments after he was still meditating, in the dark, in the
wretched little bed of his cell, on the salutary and evident effects of
the divine grace which he had sought in the sacraments. He meditated
also on the action of the Moro, on the ray of light that had shone into
that dark conscience, harbinger, if nothing less, of better and lasting
light. And in his mystic imagination he saw the design of Providence
which recompensed him for a sacrifice which he had suffered for duty's
sake. It was a blessing to think of that, to know that he was losing
all his few earthly possessions for such a recompense. He offered up
also the sorrow of his father and his sister, his own humiliation, the
straitened circumstances in which he should find himself. He saw in
front of his bed, through the window, the vague, far-off brightness of
the sky, his hope, his end. Little by little his eyes closed, in a
delicious sense of confidence and peace. He slept profoundly.



VI.

He was not yet entirely awake when the clock of St. Luke struck
half-past seven. Immediately after the bells also rang, because Don
Rocco had the day before notified the boy accustomed to serve him at
Mass that he would meet him at about eight o'clock. He jumped out of
bed, and went to get the clothes that Lucia was to have placed outside
the door. Nothing there. He called once, twice, three times. No answer.
Perplexed, he returned to his room and called out of the window:
"Lucia! Lucia!" Perfect silence. Finally the little sacristan appeared.
He had not seen Lucia. He had come to get the keys of the church, had
found the gate of the courtyard open, as well as the door of the house;
no one in the kitchen, no one in the sitting-room. Not finding the
keys, he had entered the church by the inner entry. Don Rocco sent him
to the sitting-room to get his clothes, as it was there that Lucia
usually worked in the evening. The boy returned to say that there were
no clothes there. "How? There are no clothes?" Don Rocco ordered him to
stand on guard before the entrance of the house and went down to look
for them himself, in his shirt. Half-way down the stairs he stopped and
sniffed. What an abominable odor of pipe was this? Don Rocco, with
darkened brow, went on. He went directly to the sitting-room, looked,
searched; there was nothing. He returned to the kitchen, his heart
beating. A horrid smell, but no clothes. Yes, under the table there was
a little pile of soiled things; a jacket, a pair of drawers, a
peasant's hat. Don Rocco gathered up, unfolded, and examined them with
portentous frowns. It seemed to him that he had seen these things
somewhere before. His brain did not yet understand anything, but his
heart began to understand and to beat more strongly than before. He
took hold of his chin and his cheeks with his left hand, squeezed them
hard, trying to squeeze from them the where, the how, and the when. And
lo! his eyes rested on the wall, and he finally perceived something
there which was not there the day before. There was written in charcoal
on the right: "Many salutations." And on the left:

"The wine is good."

"The servant is good."

"The cloak is good."

"Don Rocco is good."

He read, raised his hand to his head, read again - read again, seemed to
lose his eyesight, felt a sensation of cold, of torpidity spreading
from his breast throughout his body. Some one called out in the
courtyard, "Where is that Don Rocco?" With difficulty he went up to his
room again, cast himself on his bed, almost without knowing what he was
doing, almost without thought or sensation.

Below they were looking and calling for him. Professor Marin was there,
and some few other persons who had come to attend the Mass. No one
could understand how the door of the church was still closed. The
professor went into the house, called Lucia, called Don Rocco, without
receiving any answer. He finally reached the room of the priest and
stood still on the doorsill, amazed to see him in bed. "Well," said he,
"Don Rocco! in bed? And what about Mass?"

"I cannot," answered Don Rocco in a low voice, immovable on his back
like a mummy.

"But what is it?" replied the other, approaching the bed with sincere
alarm. "What is the matter with you?"

This troubled face, this affectionate tone, softened poor Don Rocco's
heart, petrified by pain and surprise. This time two real tears fell
from his palpitating eyelids. His mouth, closed tight, was twisting and
trembling, but still resisted. Seeing then that he answered not a word,
the professor ran to the stairs and called down that the physician
should be sent for.

"No, no," Don Rocco forced himself to say without moving. His voice was
filled with sobs. The professor heard him only as he was returning to
the bed.

"No?" said he. "But what, then, is the matter? Speak."

Meanwhile three poor women and a beggar, who had come to listen to
Mass, entered quite frightened into the room, surrounding the two, and
in their turn questioning Don Rocco. He kept silent like a Job, seeking
to master himself. Perhaps his annoyance at all these curious faces
hanging over his own helped him. "Go away," said he finally to the last
comers. "There is no need of the doctor, no need of anything, go away!"

The four faces withdrew somewhat, but continued looking at him fixedly
with an expression, perhaps, of increased alarm.

"Go away, I tell you!" continued Don Rocco.

They went out silently and stopped outside to listen and spy.

"Well, then," said the professor, "what are your feelings?"

"Nothing."

"But, then, why are you in bed?"

Don Rocco turned with his face to the wall. The tears were coming back
again now. He was unable to speak.

"But in the name of heaven," insisted the professor, "what is it?"

"I am getting over it, I am getting over it," sobbed Don Rocco.

The professor did not know what to do nor what to think. He asked him
whether he wanted water, and the old beggar went down at once to get a
glassful and gave it to Marin. Don Rocco did not want it in the least,
but kept on repeating: "Thanks, thanks, I am getting over it," and
drank it obsequiously.

"Well, then?" continued the professor.

"You are right," answered Don Rocco.

"About what?"

"About the woman."

"Lucia? Right! And by the way, where is Lucia? Not here? Run away?"

Don Rocco nodded. Marin looked at him stupefied and repeating, "Run
away? Run away?" The other four came back into the room echoing, "Run
away? Run away?"

"But listen!" said the professor. "Are you staying in bed for this
reason? Are you humiliating yourself in this way? Come on and get
dressed."

Don Rocco looked at him, reddened up to the top of his head, narrowed
his tear-wet eyes in a smile, which meant: "Now it will be your turn to
laugh."

"I have no clothes," he said.

"What?"

The professor added to this word a gesture which meant, "Did she carry
them away?" Don Rocco responded also by a mere nod; and seeing that his
friend with difficulty restrained a burst of laughter, he also tried to
laugh.

"Poor Don Rocco," said the professor, and added, still with a laugh in
his throat, heartfelt words of sympathy, of comfort, and asked for
every detail of what had happened. "Oh, if you had only listened to
me!" he concluded. "If you had only sent her away!"

"Yes," said Don Rocco, accepting even this with humiliation. "You are
right. And now what will the countess say?"

The professor sighed.

"What can I say, my son? She will say nothing. This also has happened,
that your successor wrote yesterday that he had definitively gotten rid
of his present engagements and was at the disposal of the countess."

Don Rocco was silent, heart-broken. "I must look at the time," said he,
after a moment's silence, "because at half-past nine they will come
here with a horse to take me away. It will be necessary to ask the
archpriest or the chaplain to lend me a suit of clothes."

"Let me, let me!" exclaimed the professor, full of zeal. "I will go
home and send it to you immediately. You will give it back to me at
your leisure, when you are able." A lively gratitude cleared the face
and moved the eyelids of Don Rocco.

"Thanks!" said he, fixing his eyes humbly on the end of his nose.
"Thank you very much!"

"Body of Bacchus!" he added to himself, as the professor was going down
the stairs. "He is a span higher than I am, that just occurs to me!"

But it certainly did not occur to him to call him back.



VII.

At half-past nine Don Rocco appeared in the doorway of his house to
start on his exodus. The overcoat of the professor danced around his
heels and swallowed up his hands down to his finger tips. The
stove-pipe hat, of enormous size, came down to his ears. The professor
followed right behind him, laughing silently. In the courtyard some
people attracted by the report of what had happened were laughing. "Oh,
Don Rocco, see what he looks like!" said the women. And one of them
would tell him about some action of Lucia, and another about another,
things of all kinds which he had never suspected. "Enough, enough," he
answered, disturbed in his conscience at all this malicious gossip. "It
is now all over, all over."

He went on, followed by them all, gave a last look at the fig tree near
the bell-tower, and passing between the cypresses in front of the
church, turned back toward the door, devoutly raised his hat, and bent
his knee.

The little wagon was awaiting him on the main road. The driver, seeing
him in this costume, laughed no less heartily than the rest.

Then Don Rocco took leave of all, again thanked the professor, sent his
respects to the countess, and reduced to silence those who were still
heaping abuse on Lucia. When he had taken his seat the beggar
approached him and put his right hand upon one of his shoes. "Is this
yours?" said he.

"Yes, yes, the shoes are," answered the priest with a certain
satisfaction, as the horse started.

The beggar carried to his forehead the hand that had touched the shoe
of Don Rocco, and said with solemnity:

"In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Amen."






SAN PANTALEONE

BY

GABRIELE D'ANNUNZIO

The Translation by George McLean Harper.


I.

The great sandy piazza, glittered as if strewn with powdered pumice.
Its whitewashed houses held a strange metallic glow, like the walls of
an immense furnace cooling off. The glare of the clouds, reflected from
the stone pillars of the church at its far end, gave them the
appearance of red granite. The church windows blazed as with inward
fire. The sacred images had assumed life-like colors and attitudes, and
the massive edifice seemed lifted now, in the splendor of the new
celestial phenomenon, to a prouder domination than ever, above the
houses of Radusa.

Groups of men and women, gesticulating and talking loudly, were pouring
from the streets into the square. Superstitious terror grew in leaps
and bounds from face to face. A thousand awful images of divine
punishment rose out of their rude fancies; and comments, eager
disputes, plaintive appeals, wild stories, prayers, and cries were
mingled in a deep uproar, as of a hurricane approaching. For some time
past this bloody redness of the sky had lasted through the night,
disturbing its tranquillity, illumining sullenly the sleeping fields,
and making dogs howl.

"Giacobbe! Giacobbe!" shouted some, waving their arms, who till then
had stood in a compact band around a pillar of the church portico,
talking in low tones, "Giacobbe!"

There came out through the main door, and drew near to those who called
him, a long, emaciated man, apparently consumptive, whose head was bald
at the top, but had a crown of long reddish hair about the temples and
above the nape of the neck. His little sunken eyes, animated with the
fire of a deep passion, were set close and had no particular color. The
absence of his two upper front teeth gave to his mouth when speaking,
and to his sharp chin with its few scattered hairs, the strangeness of
a senile faun. The rest of his body was a wretched structure of bones
ill-concealed by his clothes. The skin on his hands, his wrists, the
back of his arms, and his breast was full of blue punctures made with a
pin and india-ink, the souvenirs of sanctuaries visited, pardons
obtained, and vows performed.

When the fanatic approached the group at the pillar, a swarm of
questions arose from the anxious men. "Well, then? what did Don Console
say? Will they send out only the silver arm? Would not the whole bust
do better? When would Pallura come back with the candles? Was it one
hundred pounds of wax? Only one hundred? And when would the bells begin
to ring? Well, then? Well, then?"

The clamor increased around Giacobbe. Those on the outskirts of the
crowd pushed toward the church. From all the streets people poured into
the square till they filled it. And Giacobbe kept answering his
questions, whispering, as if revealing dreadful secrets and bringing
prophecies from far. He had seen aloft in the bloody sky a threatening
hand, and then a black veil, and then a sword and a trumpet.

"Go ahead! Go ahead!" they urged him, looking in each other's faces,
and seized with a strange desire to hear of marvels, while the wonder
grew from mouth to mouth in the crowd.



II.

The vast crimson zone rose slowly from the horizon to the zenith and
bade fair to cover the whole vault of heaven. An undulating vapor of
molten metal seemed pouring down on the roofs of the town; and in the
descending crepuscule yellow and violet rays flashed through a
trembling and iridescent glow. One long streak brighter than the others
pointed towards a street which opened on the river-front, and at the
end of this street the water flamed away between the tall slim
poplar-trunks, and beyond the stream lay a strip of luxuriant country,
from which the old Saracen towers stood out confusedly, like stone
islets, in the dark. The air was full of the stifling emanations of
mown hay, with now and then a whiff from putrefied silkworms in the
bushes. Flights of swallows crossed this space with quick, scolding
cries, trafficking between the river sands and the eaves.

An expectant silence had interrupted the murmur of the multitude. The
name Pallura ran from lip to lip. Signs of angry impatience broke forth
here and there. The wagon was not yet to be seen along the river-road;
the candles had not come; Don Consolo therefore was delaying the
exposition of the relics and the acts of exorcism; the danger still
threatened. Panic fear invaded the hearts of all those people crowded
together like a flock of sheep, and no longer venturing to raise their
eyes to heaven. The women burst out sobbing, and at the sound of
weeping every mind was oppressed and filled with consternation.

Then at last the bells began to ring. As they were hung low, their deep
quivering strokes seemed to graze the heads of the people, and a sort
of continuous wailing filled the intervals.

"San Pantaleone! San Pantaleone!"

It was an immense, unanimous cry of desperate men imploring aid.
Kneeling, with blanched faces and outstretched hands, they supplicated.

"San Pantaleone!"

Then, at the church door, in the midst of the smoke of two censers, Don
Consolo appeared, resplendent in a violet chasuble, with gold
embroidery. He held aloft the sacred arm of silver, and conjured the
air, shouting the Latin words:

"Ut fidelibus tuis aeris serenitatem concedere digneris. Te rogamus,
audi nos."

At sight of the relic the multitude went delirious with affectionate
joy. Tears ran from all eyes, and through glistening tears these eyes
beheld a miraculous gleam emanate from the three fingers held up as if
in the act of benediction. The arm appeared larger now, in the
enkindled air.

The dim light awoke strange scintillations in the precious stones. The


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Online LibraryVariousStories by Foreign Authors: Italian → online text (page 4 of 8)